Further protests in Urumqi

Uighur people take to the streets in Urumqi. Photograph: Guang Niu/Getty Images

Uighur people take to the streets in Urumqi. Photograph: Guang Niu/Getty Images

The BBC and The Guardian report that there have been further protests in Urumqi, this time without violence. Incredible footage at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/8137519.stm

Uighur residents erupted into protests during an official media tour of the riot zone in the face of hundreds of officers… Women in the market place burst into wailing and chanting as foreign reporters arrived, complaining that police had taken away Uighur men. Authorities have arrested 1,434 people in connection with Sunday’s unrest. As they streamed out on to the main street, the crowd swelled to about 200, with Uighur men and more women joining them, shouting and waving their fists… And then a single old woman, propped on a crutch, forced armoured personnel carriers and massed paramilitary ranks into a slow – if temporary – retreat. No one noticed her at first. She emerged from the crowd and moved slowly down the street. A Uighur police officer came forward to escort her away. She could not be persuaded. As older residents stepped forward and attempted to calm the crowd, she advanced steadily towards the line of armoured vehicles. She halted inches in front of one. The driver started its engine. For a long moment they faced each other. Then the carrier slowly began to roll backwards and the line of officers inched away, back down the road. Suddenly, the massed might of the Chinese authorities looked very much like one scared and vulnerable man – like many of the young officers stationed around the city. Officials attempted to remove reporters – telling them that it was not safe and did not fit in with media arrangements – as the stand-off continued. “You see old women and children now. But on Sunday night it was men – you should go to the hospital and see the victims,” said one.

One wonders what the situation would be like if the international media was not present. It could be like after the riots in Yining in 1997, where arrests continued for weeks, followed by executions.

Or perhaps the Chinese authorities have decided that such crackdowns are ultimately counter-productive. That they only exacerbate tensions between Han and Uighurs.

The test is what happens when the media’s attention inevitably shifts.

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